Fleet operators and company car drivers with electric vehicles (EVs) are set to face longer periods of downtime in the event of a mechanical failure or
collision if automotive aftersales businesses don’t adapt more quickly to handle new models.
As CO2 caps and taxation are expected to push more drivers into electrified cars over the coming years, and environmentally-conscious businesses seek to increase their electric van fleets, dealerships, workshops and bodyshops are under greater pressure to deal with repairs and maintenance to the batteries and high-voltage electrical components in these vehicles.
While maintaining an electric or hybrid car or van is often no more difficult than one powered by a combustion engine, technicians must be specially trained in order to avoid getting shocked by the electrical system.
EVs with a driveline fault, or those involved in a collision can prove the most difficult to deal with as manufacturers are often slow to release technical repair information and roll out training.
Michael Brown, fleet manager at Virgin Media, said: “You need to build in things like if an EV is involved in an accident, it’s going to have to go to a specialised dealer to be repaired. There is also a higher risk of the vehicle getting written off if the battery is damaged.
“We’ve had problems with Teslas. Someone had a rear bumper repaired and it was literally just a new bumper needed to be put on. Our approved bodyshop wasn’t allowed to touch it, so they had to put it on a recovery truck, drive it 200 miles to a Tesla-approved repairer and then the driver sat there and waited while it got repaired.”
The number of plug-in cars on UK roads is low at the moment, accounting for less than 1%. Many of them are in the hands of private buyers as fleets have struggled to get hold of high volumes of stock.
This year, a number of manufacturers promise to increase EV fleet volumes, meaning there will be more on the road doing more miles.
By 2030, the National Grid predicts there will be between 2.7 and 10.6 million EVs on UK roads. As part of its Road to Zero Strategy, the Government plans to end the sale of petrol, diesel and hybrid cars altogether by 2035.
Pete Eden, national business process and technical manager at the National Body Repair Association (NBRA), said: “Most OEMs have prog-rammes in place that see hybrids and EVs are recovered and taken to facilities that have trained personnel to repair them. They also have recovery agents in place trained to lift such vehicles safely.”
But not all UK dealers have the personnel or equipment to work on electrified vehicles – yet.
“EV/hybrid tooling is widely available now, the main thing missing from the repair of EVs/hybrids is knowledge,” Eden added.
Paul Taylor, fleet manager at Morgan Sindall, said manufacturers are still playing catch up when it comes to maintaining EVs.
He explained: “The problem, particularly with electric commercial vans, for us in the outlying areas is getting the maintenance done because they’ve not got that big a range. When we put our first few (electric vans) in at Heathrow, the supplier told me where the nearest dealer was and I said I couldn’t get there.”
Work is being done to boost the level of EV-trained technicians in the industry, which currently stands at about 5% according to the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI).
Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), which represents franchised car and commercial vehicle retailers in the UK, said: “Due to the rapid growth of the EV market, franchised dealers and manufacturers are quickly retraining their staff and, as a result, there is currently no expectation of longer waiting times for repair and servicing of EVs.
The organisation launched its own Electric Vehicle Approved (EVA) scheme last year, which requires that retailers have enough EV trained technical staff so customers will not face ‘unreasonable wait times and barriers to servicing or emergency repair work’.
More than 60 dealerships have now been ‘EV approved’ responsible for several major brands. These include Nissan, Volkswagen, Kia, Hyundai, Renault, Audi, Mitsubishi, JLR, BMW and Volvo.
Last October, the IMI’s TechSafe standards for car technicians working with EVs were officially endorsed by the Government’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV).
The accreditation is designed to give fleet operators and EV drivers confidence that their vehicle is being maintained or repaired by competent individuals.
Allianz Partners UK, which provides roadside assistance technicians to work on behalf of OEMs, is ensuring its entire workforce achieves the accreditation. Its technical development manager Ian Burchette, said: “As EVs become more popular we have a duty of care as an assistance provider to protect not only our technicians when they repair these vehicles, but also the public and our partners.
“We have always invested in the continual professional development of our technicians, making sure they are trained to the highest level. The skills and professionalism of our roadside assistance technicians are at the heart of our success, and this new commitment enables us to continue to deliver the best customer service on behalf of our manufacturer clients.”
The AA told Fleet News that all its technicians are trained to work on EVs, minimising the wait time in the event of a call-out.
A spokesperson said that, while the most common reason for a call-out was a flat tyre, easily fixed at the roadside, if the vehicle was to suffer a failure of the driveline components, the technician would not attempt a roadside repair and, instead, the vehicle would be recovered to a suitable workshop.
Bodyshops replace workshops
Much of the danger involved in the handling of EVs and hybrids is best understood by the body repair industry, where risks from damaged components are higher, leaving it best placed to handle repairs of these vehicles.
Graham O’Neill, CEO of ACIS, a distributor to the accident repair market, predicts 21st century bodyshops will replace traditional mechanical garages and servicing centres as EVs become mainstream.
He says bodyshops will become vehicle “hospitals” with all the expertise to perform battery transplants.
“Bodyshops are different to what they used to be, and the more professional ones are certainly ahead of the game when it comes to EV training on how to repair vehicles safely.
“We have put many of these bodyshop technicians through the ACIS EV and ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems) training programmes, as the demand is there,” O’Neill said.
It’s possible that in the future there won’t be servicing of engines, simply the replacement of the batteries or the repair of electronic components.
Currently, many dealerships are already outsourcing these services to manufacturer-approved bodyshops because they don’t have the room or the ability to recalibrate the vehicle’s ADAS systems post-repair.
“This outsourcing extends the process and the complexity and cost to drivers who are increasingly looking to reduce their key-to-key time so they can get back on the road as fast as possible. Today’s bodyshops have become more agile and customer-centric,” O’Neill added.
Initially, manufacturers only provided training to approved bodyshops, making it difficult for the independents to attend. This has changed, according to Eden, who says there is a “growing market” offering training on hybrid/EV systems.
“The OEMs don’t always get the vehicle directed to them as some are insured independently. These vehicles find their way into independent repair facilities. Today, many of the UK independent repair shops are investing in the equipment to repair EVs and hybrids,” Eden said.
How Norway is coping with EV repair and maintenance
Norway is often seen as a benchmark for electric vehicle adoption. In just a few years, the country has achieved a rapid growth of EVs on its roads, enabling it to have Europe’s lowest average CO2 emissions.
The country’s network of workshops and recovery agents has been forced to adapt rapidly to this changing dynamic.
Car manufacturers have been instrumental, by internally certifying Norwegian mechanics to be able to handle the high-voltage batteries and other diagnostic tools required to repair and maintain the vehicles.
Erik Lorentzen, head of analysis and consultancy at the Norwegian EV Association, said: “In 2019, the market share for new EVs reached 42%. It was a significant growth of 30% compared with 2018. So, of course, we have seen a significant growth in workshops offering service and repair on electric cars, by providing both the necessary tools and certification.
“This increases competition. The Norwegian EV Association has been encouraging this for a number of years since it benefits all EV owners.”
Will the aftersales sector be EV-ready in just 15 years? Read the thoughts of Steve Nash, CEO of the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) by clicking here.